Dean Baker was a rancher, pilot, family man, a businessman, but most people knew him as a watchdog, to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Dean passed away Saturday, May 13th at a St. George, Utah, hospital from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 77. Baker was born Dec. 19, 1939, in Delta, Utah, where he learned to farm, ranch and fly an airplane solo by the age of 16.
In 1959, he moved to Snake Valley, on the Nevada-Utah border 300 miles northeast of Las Vegas, to help run a ranch his father had acquired there a few years earlier.
The town they settled in was also called Baker, but that was just a coincidence. Their cattle and alfalfa operation more than doubled in size over the past 20 years, consolidating what used to be a dozen separate ranches into a single, family-owned corporation operating on more than 12,000 acres on both sides of the state line.
The Las Vegas Water Grab, or more commonly known as the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) Clark, Lincoln and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project, surfaced in 1989 when Las Vegas filed on all the unappropriated groundwater in large areas of eastern and central Nevada. That included Snake Valley which teeters on the Nevada-Utah border. Dean Baker’s family ranch is located in Snake Valley in sight of Wheeler Peak and in the sights of SNWA’s rapacious water pipeline overreach. It was a bold move for Las Vegas in 1989, and if it weren’t for Dean Baker’s bold forward approach with project proponents, water would be going south by now, but it isn’t.
In 2003, Dean Baker was invited to be a “stakeholder” in SNWA’s Integrated Water Planning Advisory Committee to work on Las Vegas’ water needs. For two years, Dean attended meetings in Las Vegas and endured the attempts of an assigned political heavyweight’s efforts to sway Dean, and get him to sell his ranch and water rights to SNWA but that didn’t work either.
Baker spent the better part of the next 20 years commenting at meetings, writing letters, serving on committees and joining lawsuits in hopes of blocking the water authority’s still-pending, multibillion-dollar pipeline proposal. The effort required countless trips, often in his own airplane to Las Vegas and Carson City, where he registered as a legislative lobbyist so he could plead his case directly to lawmakers.
In the process, he became the unofficial spokesman for the opposition. Reporters from across the country and around the globe painted him as a folk hero, a humble rancher fighting to protect his spread from the drought ridden desert of Las Vegas. Baker was happy to oblige, with his willingness to do anything to advocate against the water grab.
Baker is survived by his wife of 19 years, Barbara; his daughter, Chris Robinson; sons Dave, Craig and Tom; stepsons Gary and Dennis Perea; and 18 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Fredrick and Betty Baker, and his brother, Carl.
Baker was buried this past Monday in the same cemetery as his parents, approximately two miles from the ranch in Snake Valley.
His family is planning a public memorial service at the ranch on June 24.